Spring has finally sprung in Pennsylvania but it’s always possible another snow storm will come

“There are robins on the hill,” my dad said and we rushed to the windows and “ooohed” and “aahed” because in Pennsylvania we know that the sight of the robins in our yards means spring has sprung. Sure, the grass may still be brown and yellow, the trees may still be naked, and the flowers aren’t yet budding, but when the robins appear, back from their trip South, we know it won’t be long.

Soon there will be flowers (and for our family sneezing), warm days spent at the playground (though we already squeezed a playground visit in this week),

I have to be honest, during our first warm day this spring, I found myself briefly wishing for cold again. After months of waiting for weather warm enough to get the children out of the house, I felt a rush of anxiety at having to talk to people again while walking the dog and pushing my daughter up the hills on her bicycle. I’m anti-social at heart (which is weird, considering the 13 years I worked in newspapers) and find the older I’ve become the more I prefer sitting at home, reading a book, writing nonsense on here, or watching another episode of “Somebody Feed Phil.”

Not having to wear a coat to walk to the car or around the block was welcome for those three warm days, before cold weather set back in, though. I walked to the local diner on the second warmer day, after a family friend invited me for lunch. I was fed what was possibly grass with some dried cranberries, the smallest sunflower seeds I’ve ever seen and a pile of oregano. Apparently, I’m not as “natural” as I like to think and found myself wishing the black beans sprinkled on as my source of protein was a huge steak.

Showing that I’m not yet prepared for the normal warm weather walking of five paces behind my daughter on her bike while trying not to let the dog yank me onto my face on the sidewalk on her short leash, I decided to try to cut corners and let the dog pull my daughter on her bike. I wasn’t really going to leave the leash hooked there long, but truly thought the dog might pull her forward a few inches instead of yanking the bike onto its side and leaving my preschooler laying under it at the exact moment a local police officer drove by.

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The officer’s SUV slowed down and he looked through the tinted window at me as I lifted her off the sidewalk and checked her skinned elbow and grabbed the dog’s leash to keep her from running away. He gave me a thumbs up as if to ask “You okay?” and I gave one back to let him know I was and then waved a ‘thank you’.  One thing that is nice about small-town life is the local police presence.

He drove away and I looked closer at the mark on her arm was about the size of the top of a pin, but you would have thought she had almost lost her arm the way her lower lip was pushed out and she started making demands we turn around and go home. In the past two weeks, she’s become very attached to bandaids and seems to think she needs them on even the smallest scratches.

Even her animals are receiving their own bandages, especially if the dog happens to grab on to one of them and run off with it. Also in the past two weeks, she has become much more stressed about – well, everything. I had a feeling what she needed more than a bandaid was a nap after a couple of hours at the playground earlier with her dad and even more running through the house chasing the dog, before our walk.

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By Friday night the warm air had faded and I was receiving texts from my husband, who was at work, reminding me to turn on the heat. I refused, telling him it was still warm out and I wouldn’t close the windows and turn the heat on until I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes. This resolved faded shortly after that declaration and I found myself craving a warm cup of tea and the shawl that used to be my aunts. 

For now I’m happy to sink back into a little bit of introvert isolation, content with the excuse that it’s simply too cold to go outside and interact with others. And who knows, maybe we will have a March blizzard like last year and I’ll have even more of an excuse to stay inside.

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Word of the year: contentment

“If thou indeed derive thy light from Heaven, Then, to the measure of that heaven-born light, Shine, Poet! In thy place, and be content. . . —WILLIAM WORDSWORTH”

Once upon a time I picked out a “word of the year”; a word meant to set the tone of the upcoming year. It is closely related to the idea of a New Year’s resolution but instead of promising to do something to change yourself in the new year the idea is to change how you think about your life.

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A couple years ago I chose the words “peace” and “simplicity.” Everything in my world was not peaceful or simple during that year but there were periods of peace and simplicity at least. Decisions were also made with those words at the forefront of my mind, as much as possible anyhow. To keep with the sentiment behind the words I also cut out some people and aspects of my life that created little more than stress.

This year the word “contentment” has been on my mind a lot lately and I think one reason is because I am rarely content, but am getting better. In fact, two days after I chose contentment as my word for 2019, I wound myself up in an anxiety-ridden ball of discontented stress induced by the restless feeling that I should be doing more with my life. I was agitated, snappy and definitely not content with life for three days straight.

Being discontented isn’t always a bad thing. Someone in a bad relationship or a dead end job might say “I’m not content to stay where I am in this life” and in those cases discontent is not only understandable but acceptable. The good discontent leads to positive and needed changes. Sometimes, though, we need to learn to embrace contentment in our lives; contentment in where we are and what we have and who we have in our lives.

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Blogger Stacey Pardoe wrote on her blog recently:

I’ve always been drawn to the familiar words of Psalm 46:10, “Cease from striving and know that I am God.”

Some translations read, “Be still and know that I am God.”

For years I assumed the words “be still” meant to stop moving and focus on God.

What I didn’t know was that in the original language, the word for “be still” loosely translates as “let your arms hang loose or slackened.” A more literal translation is, “Let your hard-working arms hang limp and loose. Lay it down.”

I thought of those words as I stood in the shadow of the crescent moon. And in the milky glow, I let my arms hang loose. I laid down all my careful plans and all my striving to bring the plans to pass. It was terrifying.”

This year I want to do my best to be still while I try to embody the word contentment.

Contentment with being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom.

Contentment with people who reach out only when they want something from me.

Contentment with the lack of strong friendships.

Contentment with the journey to better health being slow but purposeful.

Contentment with what plans God has for me.

Contentment in the waiting.

Contentment that I may not always embrace contentment.

And when I don’t embrace being content I hope I will square back my shoulders and try again, relying on God’s wisdom to show me if I need to be content with where I am or if God is calling for a change.

I hope this new year, and each new day in it, we all remember contentment is how we hope and strive to feel.

It may take time to reach the level of contentment I feel I should have but when I fail I pray God reminds me to be still until I find it again.

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All images by Lisa R. Howeler


Lisa R. Howeler is a wife, mom, writer and photographer. She resides in Pennsylvania and is a former journalist. She currently provides photographs for bloggers and for stock agencies, Alamy, Cavan, and Lightstock.

 

Because she would want us to

My aunt Dianne was sitting in her recliner bundled up in a thick sweater pulled over her plaid button-up shirt she’d been wearing almost every day for two months with a thick, fluffy blanket across her legs. A knitted shawl with a hood was draped around her head and shoulders.

She looked – as she might say herself – like a tick about to burst.

“Lisa, is that heat on?” she asked and when I assured her it was she shivered. “Well, good gravy, I don’t think it’s working.”

On the TV Ree Drummond was pouring half a quart of whipping cream into a bowl of potatoes and telling viewers “Now, don’t judge me, or judge me if you want, but I just think these mashed potatoes are so much better with all this whipping cream.” Then she smiled at the camera.

“I can’t believe she’s not 300 pounds,” I said.

“All that cream is a little overboard isn’t it?” Dianne asked, rhetorically.

We both knew it was overboard.

We laughed a little and shook our heads.

We watched The Pioneer Woman whip up the potatoes and set them aside.

“Now it’s time for my famous chicken fried steak, which cowboys just love,” Ree said and smiled at the camera again, dimples showing.

I rolled my eyes.

“How hasn’t anyone in that family had a heart attack?” I wondered out loud, the irony not lost on me since my aunt had had at least two heart attacks already. I hoped she didn’t take my comment as a personal jab at her.

“Well…..” Dianne said and shrugged a little, leaving the rest of her response to be guessed.

The Pioneer Woman drives me nuts with her fattening recipes but her chipper personality and knowing I can modify the recipes for a healthier option make looking away hard to do.

Next to me the Christmas tree was bright with lights and ornaments. Out the window Dad’s star was shining bright against the dreary winter clouds at the edge of the field and woods.

 

Before long my aunt was asleep in her chair, chin into her chest. She’d been falling asleep a lot like that lately, sometimes almost in mid-sentence, and I knew her health was getting worse. So that day we enjoyed her when she was awake and tried not to think about how much longer we might have her with us.

A couple weeks before she’d been messaging me, asking me for gift suggestions for my son and daughter and I knew she was anxious to spoil them and see them smile as they opened their gifts. She was planning how to make sausage balls, a Southern tradition, without “poisoning me”, knowing I was allergic to corn and had also gone gluten-free. I told her not to worry about me and simply make the treats for the rest of the family. I offered to make some as well so she wouldn’t have to do all the work. We messaged back and forth and then I accidentally bumped the video chat button in messenger. The button is annoying and most days I hate it because I rarely want to video chat with anyone, especially via Facebook. I missed her call but she tried to call me through the ap and her voice was recorded. It was only for 17 seconds,  enough for me to hear her voice call my name, thinking I’d picked up. I didn’t discover it for a couple months, when she was already gone.

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Sometimes, when I’m missing Dianne the most, I scroll back to the recording and listen to her call my name. Of course, I always cry. When I first discovered the recording I hit the play button without thinking. Her voice could be heard throughout our house and my son’s head lifted quickly. He looked at me in confusion and then we burst into tears.

My mom said many days Dianne could barely make it from the bathroom to her chair without needing to sit down and catch her breath but she sat the kitchen table for hours and made the sausage balls, kneading the meat and flour and cheese together and rolling them to put in the oven to be cooked.

“She just seemed so delighted she could do that,” Mom remembered. She grew quiet and I saw tears in her eyes. “Well, anyhow…” her voice trailed off and I knew she was trying to stay happy and not bring the mood of the day down.

On my phone is a video of my aunt opening a gift from her grand-nephew, my son. She could barely catch her breath, but she seemed excited and hugged him and told her how much she loved the gift.

Four days later my husband’s phone rang and I heard him from upstairs.

“No! Oh no!” I heard emotion heavy in his voice.

He came downstairs and held the phone against his chest.

“It’s your mom,” he said.

I didn’t want to take the phone but I did.

“Dianne died,” Mom said in a voice mixed with sadness and shock.

She’d called my husband first to make sure someone was with me when I was told, just as she had when my grandmother had died 15 years before.

Though I knew it was coming my head still spun when she said it and I had to sit in the floor because my legs didn’t seem to want to hold me.

I sat in my parents living room the other day.

The chair was empty.

The Southern accent couldn’t be heard.

I couldn’t kiss her soft cheek or try to squirm away when she blew “zerberts” (messy, slobbery kisses) against my cheek.

I couldn’t feel her arms around me or hear her laugh when one of the kids said something funny.

Somehow it feels a lot less like Christmas this year with her gone.

Still, I know she would scold us for dreading gathering without her.

So we’ve promised each other to cook the sausage balls, decorate the tree, wrap the gifts and to cook the collard greens I forgot to get her last year, even though she asked.

We will drink hot cocoa while we watch her favorite Christmas movies: “It’s A Wonderful Life” and the black and white version of “A Christmas Carol.”

We will share the funny stories and laugh as we remember her.

We will, somehow, find the joy in the midst of sadness and enjoy those who are still with us because that is exactly what she would have wanted us to do.

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Slowing down for Advent

We don’t have a big family or tons of events we attend for Christmas so physically rushing around has never really been an issue for me. The rushing I experience during the season is often mental “rushing.” My mind races over all the things I should do or be able to do but can’t, for various reasons.

This year I saw a way to remind myself to slow down for Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas, when three photographers I follow on Instagram offered a photography inspiration guide. The goal of the guide is to slow down and really take in each moment of the days leading up to Christmas by photographing the small and simple moments with our families. The guide, The Advent Inspiration Guide was offered by Ginger Unzueta, Mae Burke, and Kyla Ewert.

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The prompts in the guide are helping me to slow down my mental thought processes this season but also to think more about what Advent is, or should be. I’m finding it is also reminding me that cutting things out that complicate life it makes it easier to truly enjoy each day instead of rush through it.

As I thought about this project I began to think about what the word Advent means and became curious about the history of it. Originally, Advent was not held around the Christmas season, but was simply around a time leading up to the feast of Epiphany, when new Christians were baptized in January.

“During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas,” according to Christianity.com.

It was the Roman Christians who began to tie Advent, which means “coming” in Latin, to the second coming of Christ. By the Middle Ages Advent was tied to Christmas. Today we recognize Advent as being a time to slow down, to reflect on what is to come through Christ and where we are in our own lives.

“The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent,” Christianity.com writes about Advent.

“Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.” – Karl Barth

Our family has not attended a lot of Christmas events this year but we have participated in a couple holiday-related activities, including baking cookies to give to local police officers and taking my dad’s Christmas star up to the field. Beyond that we’ve been enjoying simple moments like my daughter playing with the nativity scene figurines like they are her dolls and rearranging the ornaments on the tree over and over.

While my daughter was playing with the nativity set last week, I was shocked to realize I’ve never actually sat and told her the nativity story. We remedied that by using the figurines to tell the story and then we watched a cartoon about it as well.

 

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I died of a stress-induced heart attack and it made me change the way I eat and live – again

A month ago I died from a stress-induced heart attack during a bank robbery and it made me think a lot about the changes I’ve been saying I would make to improve my health but hadn’t.

Let me clarify: my son is currently being homeschooled and our local homeschool group offered a Criminal Justice course that involved a mock crime and trial. During the commission of the mock crime I was tagged to tragically die of a stress-induced heart attack, since the robber was holding a note that said her cell phone was a bomb. I actually volunteered to be the one to die. Why? I have no idea but I almost immediately regretted it because first, I am not an actor and second, because ironically one of my biggest fears is dying of a heart attack.

My son called my acting the worst he has ever seen, which really isn’t fair since he’s too young to remember Beverly Hills 90210.

“I was so embarrassed,” he told me on the way home that day. “You were just laying there on the floor. And everyone was staring at you. It was weird.”

In my defense, I had no idea the instructor was going to record the whole thing and the students were going to watch it several times in class.

And he was right. It was weird. To say the moment was an internally sobering moment for me is an understatement. At the end of December it will be a year since my aunt died in the floor of my parent’s dining room, from what we all suspect was her third, maybe fourth, heart attack. Laying there I tried not to think about how my mom said she had tumbled forward out of the chair and then just laid motionless on the floor. Mom said she knew she was gone even before she fell from the chair.

Outwardly everyone, including me,  joked that day as I laid on the floor with children ages 10 to 17 looking at me and giggling, some commenting if I moved or breathed: “The body is moving!”

I had to get up in the middle of it all to use the bathroom because I had no idea I would be laying there for an hour and a half and had guzzled quite a bit of water before the class.

“It’s a miracle!” one of the students said and I quoted the Bible “Lazarus, come forth.”

We all laughed some more.

My own child nudged me with his foot to see if I was “really dead”.  Luckily the instructor corrected him and showed him that the proper procedure is to check for a pulse by placing two fingers on the neck. A number was placed by my body to mark me as evidence and photos were taken of my body.

For the next couple of classes, I listened to myself being referred to as deceased and while I was not offended and knew the reference was for the sake of the class, it did make me think about where I am healthwise and where I want to be. I’m not a horrible eater, which I know is something all overweight people say, but it’s true. I don’t eat donuts, cakes, cookies, fast food, or even bread. I stopped eating bread and sugar almost six years ago and that first time I lost 30 pounds on a semi-low carb “diet” (though it was more of a lifestyle change).

Over time, though, I added in small amounts of bread or wheat products, almost always having reactions afterward – aching joints, heartburn, brain fog. Then I added more and more sugar, always saying it was only a little and it couldn’t hurt me much.

 

Then there was a piece of candy here, some ice cream there. I have a corn allergy, which is good in some ways because it requires me to cut out almost all processed food but as long as something didn’t have corn it, I felt like it was safe to have it, ignoring the fact that the sugar was hurting me as much in the long run as the corn allergy would.

“You’re alive!” one of the other mom’s said when she saw me in a store a week or so after my “untimely death.”

And it was true, I was still technically alive but there are so many days I’ve felt as if I am slowly dying. The day the class was held my muscles ached like I had been running a marathon. I laid on the floor for an hour and a half and I didn’t even want to move to get up because I hurt so bad. My legs and arms have often felt heavy, like there are lead weights on them and my brain feels stuffed with cotton almost every day.

I’ve worried about an autoimmune disease, or two, being the cause of my issues, or maybe it is perimenopause, because I’m in that age range now, but then, when I stopped and really looked at what I was eating, I realized I was sneaking more wheat and sugar than I realized. Additionally, an over-consumption of dairy wasn’t helping either, so even if I do have an autoimmune issue, I’m not helping it with my “not-as-bad-as-it-could-be-diet”.

So in the last few weeks since I “died” I’ve started shaving the things out of my diet that I know are issues for me – sugar (which is an issue for anyone), wheat and dairy. The wheat isn’t difficult because I’d already eliminated that and ate it very rarely in the past six years. The dairy is somewhat easy, though I had found myself reaching for it as a snack during the day when I didn’t have time to cook a real meal and as comfort food in the evening by adding a natural chocolate syrup or molasses to a glass of it and warming it up.

The sugar? Now, that will be a real problem because I’m always reaching for that when I feel down, tired, happy, sad, weak, strong – well,  you get the idea. It’s a serious addiction, but one I overcame once before so know I can do it again.

When I told the instructor how his mock crime and trial had me thinking about how far my health has slipped, I thought he might just laugh and shake his head, but instead, he said: “Sometimes that’s a God thing.”

Hmmm.

Since all of this came at the same time I felt God leading me to walk away from Facebook, comparing myself to others, and relying on social media for validation, I think he may be right.

I’m starting a separate “page” for my health journey. Technically it’s a separate blog, but I don’t consider it a blog since it’s still me and still my journey, just a different part of my journey.  You can follow along on my successes (and I’m sure failures) at The Sort Of, Kind Of, Healthy Health Blog.

On the eve of her fourth birthday

And there she was, drifting off to sleep on the eve of her fourth birthday. There was pink in her hair and I wondered what it was since we’d just washed our hair together tonight in the tub. Then I remembered she’d got paint in it a week before and apparently I hadn’t got all of it out in the bath that night. I thought about how much I loved noticing those little details of her childhood.

The day before she’d been sitting on the hill, in the grass and fallen leaves, outside her grandparents’ house, wearing a shirt on backward, since she still hasn’t mastered how to put them on the right way, with rainbow pants and chocolate smudged on the corner right above her upper lip, left over from the brownie cake her grandma and grandpa had made. After her bath, the day before her birthday, she put on an adorable, felt looking pink dress, as if she was preparing to wake up the next morning ready to celebrate her official birthday, one I couldn’t believe was already here.

She was the baby we never expected and the one we never knew we needed.

She delights us, surprises us, aggravates us and most of all she completes us.

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The town that lost its’ library

The day the library died in the tiny town of New Albany, Pennsylvania, rain fell from the clouds like a waterfall and didn’t stop. The already saturated ground gave way with nothing left to hold it in place. A week before the bottom floor of the library had taken on water in another flash flood, most likely weakening the foundation.
Volunteers were working to clean out the ruined books two days before the water rose again, sending water rushing up around the building as it had before, across the major highway running through town and toward the gas station in the middle of town.
This time the building couldn’t withstand the rush of the water. No one had expected it all to wash into highway it had sat next to for over 60 years, crumbling like a matchstick house, but it did, taking with it some of what one community member called “the dedication of so many to keep it going.”
The downstairs of the building, where the library was, was empty of people when the building collapsed, but a family upstairs was there and held on tight to each other as it fell and their apartment landed fully intact in the water rushing by. Neighbors and the local fire department helped to rescue them, pulling them out and across the rushing water to safety.
The building hadn’t always been a library. A few times it had been a store and above it was an apartment for those who ran the business downstairs. After it became the town library many volunteers, most middle-aged to older women who were retired or homemakers, filled it with books, organizing and categorizing and creating a gift for what some might call a dying town.
Inside its walls were whole new worlds; voices never before heard, thoughts never before thought, dreams never before dreamed, chances to be given, opportunities to be provided, and lives to be escaped for just a little while.
For some, a library doesn’t seem very important, especially in this modern age when books can be read on digital devices and smartphones. But to a town without much, a library can provide a sense of community, a sense of imagination, and even a feeling of belonging.
“Expand your mind” is the encouraging message added at the top of the library’s Facebook page, updated the week flood waters first damaged the library.
Who could blame members of the town if they felt a desire to give up a little bit more on the town when they saw the crumbled ruins of the library either in person or in photos. Some 30 years ago the only factory in town closed, and in subsequent years the town pool was filled in, the only local supermarket burned to the ground, the town bank closed, the elementary school closed, the population began to dwindle and hope began to fade.
The factory never came back but the store reopened and later became a mini-mart and gas station, there was still a post office, a beauty shop, a borough park where the pool once was, and a sense of community- if only one that hung by a thread.
While the town may be dying from an economic standpoint, there are some trying to keep the community feel alive by organizing family days, fire company fundraisers, and, of course, preschool storytime at the library.

Let’s be honest, anyone trying to keep the community feeling in a small town alive today should be commended since it isn’t the physical community that is dying in today’s society, but the idea behind what a community really is. Defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals,” the psychological idea of community is fading into a world where our primary form of communication is smartphones and social media, or anything that doesn’t involve actual in-person interaction.

When photos of the library smashed in the middle of Route 220 surfaced on social media last week a deep feeling of loss was expressed, maybe because so many remembered a simpler time when talking to people face-to-face was normal and days for reading and focusing on less than 10 activities at a time was normal.

 

Honestly, there isn’t much to the town anymore, in some ways. I grew up two miles from there and many of my days were spent riding bikes with my best friends, Julia and Sarah, on its’ streets. I attended the elementary school, swam in the community pool, walked to the local store for snacks, ate with my grandmother at the small diners that are now gone, and yes, even visited the library a couple of times.
For me and others, losing the library was like watching even more of the community break away. After the most recent flash flooding, the library won’t be the only building that will have to be torn down, a fact that only adds to the heartbreak.
“I can’t remember a time without the library,” one man said.
His mother, Doris, was one of the volunteers who worked to build the library’s collection. Now in a nursing home, she asks visitors from her hometown, “How’s the library doing?” Family and friends have decided they won’t tell her the truth about the building, but instead simply let her believe, as they’ve always told her, “It’s doing well.”
Another resident, Todd, said, “The library was a labor of love of so many people. There were many times when some thought it was not used and thus not needed, but these people persevered and keep it going. There were times when hardly anyone came, but they still were there during operating hours. The people were dedicated to keeping the library open, found ways to bring in new books and create programs for kids. And most recently, it became a place for local histories and genealogies. Breaks my heart to see it completely washed away. “
“I remember being very young and going to get a book. It was a big deal to be able to pick your own book out!” a cousin of mine, Gila, said. “I started volunteering at 16 with Doris. I’d stay a few years and then move on. I always came back.

She was one of the main volunteers running the library, updating and rearranging it in the years and months before the flood destroyed it.
Volunteers aren’t yet sure if, or how, they’ll rebuild the library. A fundraising effort has started and the hope is that one day they’ll find a new home where they can again open a  small bastion of imagination, nurtured community and unvetted learning in a small, sometimes physically crumbling town.
Since I recently rediscovered my love for reading full books, and not only short excerpts, I’d love to see the fundraiser succeed and for the spark of knowledge to be lit again. And maybe through it, a desire to rebuild the other parts of town damaged or falling apart even before the flood.
To learn more about the fundraiser to rebuild the library click on this link….

When you’re afraid to let your thoughts go beyond the surface

I’ve been keeping my thoughts at surface level lately, finding ways to distract myself from the “deep thoughts” I don’t want to face.

It’s been going on for months, but it got to the point of fully crawling into a psychological  hole of denial around the time my aunt died in the end of December. When those thoughts would come to mind – the ones that reminded me everyone dies and others will follow my aunt soon – I grabbed my phone and flipped through photos on Instagram, or watched clips on Youtube. Anything to keep my mind from going there – the dark part of my mind where thoughts grab me and pull me down and hold me in the darkness while my soul spins around and around in a panic.

“I don’t want to grow up. I hate that daddy can’t carry me anymore and I’m too big for us to cuddle at night,” my almost 12-year old told me one night as we turned off the lights for bed.

My stomach tightened and I mumbled something about knowing it was hard but that it was natural to feel worried about the future and growing up. Then I hugged him and rushed off into the darkness of my room and tried to hold it together. I searched for comedians on YouTube and watched them until I didn’t have to think about it anymore. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I knew if I cried it was all over. I’d fall apart and it would take me days, if not weeks, to recover because if one rock slipped out of place they would all crumble down.

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The rock that said my little boy is growing so fast and I can’t slow it down.

The rock that said my daughter doesn’t fit snuggly in my lap anymore either and it’s leaving me feeling out of control.
The rock that said I thought about calling my aunt the other day to tell her a funny story and then remembered she wasn’t there to tell.

The rock that says my mom’s health isn’t good and someday I won’t have her to call and seek comfort from.

The rock that says my dad is so tired from Lyme and taking care of two properties and I’m worried he’s going to end up in the hospital, but I can’t make him slow down because he’s an adult.

The rock that says our finances are often not great and it scares me. The rock that tells me I’ve failed at making a career and helping support my family.

The rock that says I don’t pray enough and I know it.

The rock that says I don’t trust God the way I should.

And when all those rocks come down – what will happen?

I have to keep the rocks in place because with them in place I am less of a spazz, less of a person people shake their heads at sadly, less of a jumbled mess of anxiety and more of what a good Christian is supposed to be.

At least, this is what I have told myself as I hold myself hard against the rocks, holding them back, putting them where they belong if they threaten to fall, while the tears try to leak through and push my feelings out into the open, where anyone could see them and know I don’t have it together at all.

I know I’ve said I’m not a person who says “I had a vision” and I wouldn’t call it a vision when I was thinking about all this late one night and I saw Jesus in my mind’s eye, standing by me, looking at me with a small, gentle smile, as I held the rocks in place and then watched as he took each rock in his hands and they faded into nothingness, one by one.

“Don’t worry about these,” he said. “I’ll hold them for you. You can let them go.”

I don’t let go well, Lord, you know that, but I’m trying.

I’m trying.

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Why artists need social media breaks

This is part of a five part series focusing on tips for creatives to keep their own, unique, authentic voice from being silenced.


Listening to your creative voice (1)I recently dropped Facebook for about a week, except for posting a few photos to my Facebook page. I stopped scrolling the timeline. I looked at Instagram maybe once a day or even skipped days. Then I started reading photography tutorials or going on YouTube for tutorials so I could focus on my own development, my own journey.  I had to break the hold comparing myself to others had on me so I could hear my own voice.

And I need to do this again because I am finding myself spiraling down into the trap of comparison and it’s drowning out my own artistic voice. When you, as an artist, spend most of your time looking at other artists, you start to lose yourself. You start to tell yourself you’re not as good as whoever’s work you are looking at. You may also start to recreate what other’s are doing, thinking that if you don’t you won’t find the success these other artists have found. When you, as a person, do this, the results are the same.

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DSC_4477-2When you are constantly looking at work or lives that aren’t your own, you lose sight of your own path; you can’t hear your own voice over the other voices swirling all around you. To ground yourself again in your own art and your own self you need to get quiet and hear what you want to say. You need to clear your mind and listen to your own creative view. When I say, ‘you’ know that I am preaching to ‘me’ because I am horrible at doing this.  I constantly compare myself to others – whether in photography, writing, or life.

I’m almost 41 and I still say to myself “I’m not as creative as this person, as talented as that, as pretty as her, as smart as him.” But when I do that I shut down my own voice. I tell it what it has to offer isn’t important or worthy or it’s own. We don’t all have to be the same. We don’t all have to create the same, look the same, or photograph the same. These statements are obvious and we know it but we don’t really hear it and take it to heart and adopt it as truth.  We see the meme or hear people say “There will never be another you. No one can do you, like you do you.” And secretly we think to ourselves “Ugh. Thank God because the me I know is awful and untalented.

DSC_2079This week my son was crying before bed, lamenting the fact he’s not as good as the other Lego creators he watches on Youtube. He talked to me about his lack of resources, his lack of money to get those resources and what he sees as his lack of creativity compared to those other creators. He sounded just like me and it broke my heart. He is talented and he does an amazing job with what he has access to.

DSC_2281-2DSC_1938.jpgIt’s true that we can’t afford to give him all the tools he needs right now but I reminded him he’s on a journey and reaching a goal in that journey will take time and hard work. Everyone has a different story and a different path that lead them to where they are. What he is seeing and what we are seeing are the highlights of these people’s journeys, not the failures or the tough times or the continuous doubts.

It does sound cliche to say there is only one you and only you can provide your view of the world, whether in photography, writing, or other forms of creativity but it is true. The way each person expresses and shares their creativity is unique and different and even if it is similar to what others have done it’s not exactly the same. Half of the fun of being a creative is the experience of learning and growing and seeing where the next lesson will take us.

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DSC_5101-2I challenged my son to take himself off of YouTube for a week and simply create for the joy of creating. Now I’m challenging you, and myself, to take a week off social media as well and rediscover the enjoyment of seeing the world through our own eyes and not the eyes of a hundred other creatives.

Rediscover what made you start to create in the first place. How did it make you feel, how did it make you see the world in a different way? Quiet the outside world and listen to the voice inside yourself and let’s see what we all create at the end of this week. I hope you’ll come back and let me know how you did.